Tyler ISD takes a first look at comprehensive plans for total renovations of Robert E. Lee and John Tyler High Schools

Published on Tuesday, 26 September 2017 19:10 - Written by

CORY MCCOY, comccoy@tylerpaper.com

A collegiate environment and improved parking are in store for the students and faculty at Tyler's two high schools when bond-funded renovations are complete at both campuses.

Those highlights were among those discussed Tuesday when the Tyler Independent School District Board of Trustees got its first comprehensive look at renderings for the new high schools Tuesday.

Throughout the bond election process, the board was presented with possible floor plans and facades of the buildings, but Tuesday’s special-called meeting marked the first time architects presented preliminary plans on which blueprints will be based. 

The architects said that although the facades will be stately, the interiors would be 21st century learning spaces with several areas designed specifically to encourage interaction and collaboration.

“I think the schools will make a tremendous difference in Tyler, not just in Tyler ISD but also in our community,” Board President Fritz Hager said. “I’m looking forward to the cohesiveness that comes through a good, solid deisgn. 

Hager said the plans for large, open hallways and gathering areas are a great way to increase security, but also are a great way to gather people.

“I think that’s going to make a big difference for the kids,” he said.

Hager, a 1985 Lee graduate, said he was impressed by the renderings.

“I was always tremendously proud of my school, even though there was not much to be proud of in the building itself,” Hager said. “It’s great to be able to pair great teachers and principals who lead and love students, and great students, and pairing them with a great facility. I’m looking forward to that.” 

Several board members leaned into their background in education as they asked questions about covered walkways to protect students from rain and how much input teachers and administrators had.

Tim Loper, Tyler ISD's director of facilities, said staff such as department chairs, principals and athletic directors were involved in determining the necessities the new high schools should include.

Tyler ISD selected Corgan Associates and Harris Craig for the reconstruction of Robert E. Lee. Stantec and Fitzpatrick Associates will oversee the work at John Tyler. The four firms all have taken part in rebuilding the district’s elementary and middle schools. 

The $198 million May bond election is the largest the district has ever seen passed, and with more than 80 percent of voters in favor, it saw the most support of any bond issue.

Renovations at Lee are expected to cost $122 million because less of the campus will be able to be retained than at John Tyler, where the project will run $87 million. 

Demolition already has begun at Robert E. Lee and selective abatement and demolition is being done at John Tyler. 

“The idea is to create a collegiate environment for both the exterior and interior of the school,” said Dan Fletcher, a representative for the four groups of architects. 

Both facilities will come in at around 450,000 square feet once rebuilt, with capacities for 2,750 students each. Full blueprints are expected to be delivered by December for Robert E. Lee, with a final guaranteed maximum price from subcontractors by January. Blueprints for John Tyler will be delivered in January, with a final cost expected by March. Plans for John Tyler are expected later due to the project requiring several stages since most of the campus will be utilized during the remodeling, whereas Lee will be built almost completely south of current facilities. 

The Robert E. Lee campus will be shifted south, with Red Raider Drive cut through to Shiloh Road, which will create an internal loop around the school and ease congestion. The front of the school will face toward Donnybrook Avenue and Shiloh Road. 

The architects described the current traffic situation at Lee as “difficult at best.”

The new, multi-story structure at Lee will be a single facility, replacing the scattered outdoor facing classrooms students have used for decades. The single facility will help keep students out of the elements and provide enhanced security. Only the field house, auditorium and varsity gym will remain of the old Lee campus.

Parking lots will be placed at each corner of Lee, but the largest lots will be outside of the athletics facility and auditorium.

At John Tyler, much of the facility can be renovated thanks to the quality of construction performed during its 1981 rebuild after a fire destroyed most of the school. The structure of the school will be used as a basis to rebuild a state of the art facility.

Although parking lots at John Tyler seem smaller, only 35 percent of the current parking spaces at John Tyler are used on a daily basis. Renderings included space for future parking to be added if the need arises.

“We’ve requested variances,” Superintendent Marty Crawford said. “There’s a lot of money in asphalt and pavement that we’d love to throw back into the facility.” 

The projected need is just 400 spaces, compared to the 650 to 800 spots that the city could require.

John Tyler will gain a full-sized, two-story auditorium, replacing its small theater in the round type stage. The school also will have a third gym added onto its connected gymnasiums, as well as additional practice fields.

Several board members requested that the architects go through and label all spaces allotted for future use or expansion be labeled in a way that makes clear they are not included with the initial build. 

Both campuses also will have renovated memorials that will be open to the public, honoring students who had fallen while serving their country. The memorial at John Tyler also references the 1981 fire that destroyed the school. They also will have areas set aside for memorabilia and keepsakes important to the history of both schools.  

The district also is renovating Christus Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium, but that project is not part of the bond package.

“It’s a marathon and not a sprint, to use that cliché,” Crawford said. “It’ll be well worth it in the end, but we’ve got a long way to go. It was a big win today for the projects and I'm looking forward to the next steps.”

Groundbreaking ceremonies have been set for October 26 at 9 a.m. for John Tyler and 11 a.m. for Lee.

Twitter: @TMT_Cory